Former UNLV player Derrick Jones Jr. is among the Heat players who could disrupting Milwaukee’s offense.
The Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the NBA and are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but some experts think the No. 5 Miami has the correct pieces to pull off an upset.
Seven out of 18 ESPN NBA experts picked the Heat to win the conference semifinal series. Kurt Helin from NBA Sports and TNT’s Chris Webber are among those who called the Heat the “dark horse” of the East. There are a couple reasons as to why this isn’t out of the question.
Jimmy Butler was outstanding on Monday with a total of 40 points, but he’s not the only player capable of offense. During the regular season, the Heat saw eight players averaging double digits in scoring while Milwaukee had half that number. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 29.5 points per game during the regular season and leads with 28.5 points in the playoffs. This means that one of the biggest parts of Miami’s game plan needs to be guarding him.
“They’re just extremely dangerous. You know, the shooting and Giannis’ ability to break down your defense and collapse your defense. So you constantly have to stay focused and do your work early,” said Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra during the Game 1 postgame press conference.
Fortunately for the Heat, it seems that they can take care of it. Bam Adebayo has been called the “Giannis stopper.”
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Antetokounmpo’s points per possession drop significantly when Adebayo is guarding him. Even better news for the team is the fact that Adebayo is not the only one who can get the job done. Derrick Jones Jr., a UNLV alumnus, is another player who has shown he can impact Antetokounmpo’s performance.
Spoelstra made an interesting — not necessarily wrong — decision on Monday when he had Kendrick Nunn take Jones Jr.’s place in the nine-man rotation.
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) August 31, 2020
The Bucks took a 115-104 loss, even though Antetokounmpo, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, almost got a triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. It was not his best night as he struggled with the Heat defense and also with himself. He’s not the best from the charity line, shooting at 63.3% during the regular season, but he did even more poorly on Monday going 4-of-12 in free throws.
Spoelstra said he wasn’t “a rocket scientist” and couldn’t predict the intensity Antetokounmpo will bring for Game 2, but he will prepare his team as much as he can.
Jones Jr. could certainly help continue the pressure on Antetokounmpo, but Adebayo can keep taking care of him while also getting help from Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala and Butler. The Nunn replacement made sense in terms of adding a little more strength in the offense. Jones Jr. averaged 8.5 points during the regular season while Nunn was at 15.3 points per game.
Milwaukee had the best defense in the league during their regular season with their strategy of taking away the paint. They only allowed opponents an average of 38.7 points from there. But the Bucks don’t defend too well beyond the arc, in fact, they allowed the most three-point attempts during the regular season. That’s not ideal when facing Miami, a team that was second in the league in three-point percentage.
The Heat needs to take advantage of Milwaukee’s weak three-pointer defense and Nunn has more of a chance with a 35.0% from beyond the arc, versus Jones Jr’s 28.0%. This doesn’t mean the former Rebel won’t see any minutes against the Bucks, but it does mean Spoelstra is looking at the many details that could impact the game.
Milwaukee does a good job keeping players refreshed by having one of the deepest rotations in the league. Miami had a week off after sweeping the Indiana Pacers but still struggled during the first quarter against the Bucks falling behind 40-29. They eventually tightened up their defense, capitalized on Milwaukee turnovers, and took advantage of the free throw line.
Spoelstra said his team did a good job making the necessary adjustments to dominate the Bucks later in the game, but he made it clear that they can’t and won’t take the Bucks lightly. He is not looking too deeply into that first win, instead he is focusing on continuing to improve the game plan.
“We won Game 1. That’s it. That’s how we are viewing it,” the coach said.
Game 2 of this series is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30pm EST.